Technology is an ever-evolving and ever-influential part of our everyday lives – and it’s advancing so quickly that it can be difficult to predict what is coming next. This sentiment is particularly true regarding the fields of warehousing, distribution, and logistics. If you purchase, or influence purchases, within your operation, you’ve been well aware of the emergence of the “smart warehouse.” Once regarded as a buzzword, or even a far-fetched pipe dream, the smart warehouse is becoming a reality, backed by ready-to-purchase technologies that are changing the way warehouses do business.
Ostensibly, the world of smart warehousing can be a difficult one to navigate, especially once you take the time to consider the rate with which new products are being introduced to the market. That’s why we’ve dug through the most popular products and processes to bring to you the 7 must-have smart warehouse technologies:
- Automated Picking Tools
- Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
- Automated Inventory Control Platforms
- Warehouse Management Systems
- Internet of Things (IoT) Implementation
- Collaborative Robots (Cobots)
- Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
1. Automated Picking Tools
Long gone are the days of error-riddled picking; now, warehouses can benefit from near-perfect picking rates when picking automation elements are integrated into the flow. There are a variety of different tools that can be used to boost picking procedures, such as voice automated order picking, robotic order picking, and pick-to-light. These technologies also make use of cutting-edge barcoding options that integrate seamlessly with your chosen management software for the fastest, most accurate automated reporting experiences.
2. Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
There’s no better way to ramp up your storage and retrieval processes than to integrate automatic guided vehicles, otherwise known as AGVs, into your warehouse. The structural integrity of AGVs are evolving as technology moves forward, but even the models that have been on the market for some time have proven to be safer and yield a quicker ROI than manual labor. Some of their most important functions include pallet, rack, and other container storage, and even functions that control and automate the entire receiving process.
3. Automated Inventory Control Platforms
When used in conjunction with a handful of other technological mainstays, such as asset and inventory tags, automated inventory control platforms are implemented to take the labor, guesswork, and extraneous time out of traditional inventory control. To sweeten the deal, most of these platforms are built to automatically count the inventory and synthesize the data for fast, real-time, and ultra-accurate reporting that can be accessed remotely.
4. Warehouse Management Systems
Warehouse Management Systems, otherwise known as WMSs, are comprehensive software systems that wrangle all of your important data into one platform that can be easily accessed by internal players as well as any chosen members of your supply chain. This compartmentalizing of data makes for lightning-fast reporting which, when used tactfully, can mean uber-efficient planning, even for the scenarios that you didn’t see coming. All in all, the use of warehouse management – or warehouse execution – systems perfectly complements other automated elements.
5. Internet of Things (IoT) Implementation
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is more of an overarching concept than an individual technology, but it is regularly put into place in the world’s most effective smart warehouses. When IoT is utilized to control a plethora of moving parts, both automated and manual, it can optimize all of your processes so that their data lives in one, easy-to-access network. This helps to optimize a warehouse’s inventory control procedures, labor planning, and, of course, its overall customer experience through more rapid fulfillment rates.
6. Collaborative Robots (Cobots)
We’ve spoken briefly about the benefits of fully autonomous and robotic technologies, but it’s not always feasible for every warehouse to immediately embrace such technology, especially considering that this implementation requires sizable funds and infrastructure changes. That’s why more and more warehouses are embracing collaborative robots, or cobots, autonomous elements that are built to work with your existing associates, not without them. Cobots allow warehouses to keep many of their processes and infrastructure design choices intact while still benefiting from the optimized workflow that fully autonomous elements provide.
7. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
Automated storage and retrieval systems have been around for years, and though they have done their job of improving throughput and accuracy, they have often been regarded as being expensive, clunky, and generally inflexible. Having said that, today’s AS/RS’s are only getting sleeker and still tout all of their original benefits–reduced labor costs/restraints, modular possibilities, and, of course, increased accuracy.
You don’t need to complete a comprehensive overhaul of your warehouse to make it smarter and more efficient; instead, introduce the technologies that make sense for your business and all of its processes first. Then, you will see that any warehouse can become a “smart” warehouse.